Only a brave person would suggest that Tom Cruise should come out. Yet Lee Child, the bestselling author of the Jack Reacher thrillers, did exactly that recently. Of course, this was on the set of Cruise’s new movie, Jack Reacher. And Child was only playing his (walk-on) role as the police officer who ushers Cruise, as Reacher, out of the slammer. It’s a scene, says Child, that’s more figurative than provocative.

‘‘At one point in the movie Reacher is in jail overnight and when he’s let out in the morning I’m the desk sergeant at the police station who processes his release,’’ Child says. ‘‘It’s supposed to be kind of symbolic; you know, the author of the book releases Reacher into the world.’’

And what a release it’s been. Since he began writing the Reacher books — a series he dreamed up purely as ‘‘a way of paying the gas bill’’ — Child has sold more than 50 million copies worldwide. The New York Times recently calculated that someone, somewhere, buys a Jack Reacher book every four seconds.

Now, of course, there is his foray into film with Jack Reacher hitting cinemas in December. Plus, the 57-year-old author has a new novel out titled A Wanted Man. All of which is to say: Lee Child is an author who’s going places. And his latest book is unlikely to put the brakes on that. Much of A Wanted Man has hulking hero Jack Reacher squeezing his six-foot-five-frame into a car that’s screaming down the open highway, hurtling, inexorably, towards trouble.

‘‘In one sense, it’s just a pure ‘what if?’ story,’’ Child says from his hotel room in London. ‘‘What if you needed to hitchhike at midnight and what if the car that stopped for you had three people in it and, after about a half an hour (in the car), what if you realised those three people were all lying to you . . . And so the story takes off from there.’’

Child’s real-life story reads like a similar flight of fancy. Born and bred in the UK, he only started writing books after being fired from his job in British television when he was 40 years old. From here Child changed his name (from Jim Grant), changed careers (switching to fiction writing), and even changed countries (he now splits his time between New York and the south of France). Does he feel the reinvention is complete?

‘‘It worked out, happily,’’ he says. And yet, there’s still someone else he’d rather be: Reacher. ‘‘I think all writers make our heroes a sort of wishfulfilment version of ourselves,’’ he says. ‘‘If I lived in a fictional universe, sure, I would be Reacher.’’ But he’ll have to fight Tom Cruise for it first.

The Daily Telegraph, 1 October 2012


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